Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Goddess and the Congressman

In the interest in a little planet saving, I have recently resolved to not use my car at least one day a week and to get around by bike and bus instead. This does not come naturally in Southern California where our cars could be counted as second homes.

As a free-lance training specialist, my work schedule varies from week to week. In the preceding week I had driven all over Los Angeles County (which is the size of a small country) to facilitate training classes. As I awoke last Tuesday morning, I was thrilled I had nowhere to go outside of Santa Monica. As I considered the errands of my day, I could feel my resolve weakening on the idea of going car-less. “I’ll only drive a few miles,” I rationalized, “And I have too much stuff to carry.”

As fate would have it, The Goddess of Precious Resources heard my whining thoughts and intervened on behalf of the planet. Because She knew what was best for my higher self, She directed my thoughts to the NPR interview that was airing on my bedside radio. The conversation was with Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-Oregon), who is head of the bipartisan Congressional Bike Caucus.

Congressman Blumenauer doesn’t have a car in Washington D.C. He rides his bike everywhere he goes on Capitol Hill and he has been doing so for 12 years. He relishes that he’s never been caught in a traffic jam or fought to find a parking space. As I pictured the extremes of weather in Washington D.C., with its swampy summers and icy winters, I cringed at my own wimpy-ness at even considering not using my bike on practically any day in sunny Santa Monica.

The Congressman noted that 20% of car travel in the United States is one mile or less and 40% of travel is two miles or less. Boy was I busted.

This radio story re-booted my resolve, so I loaded up my bike basket and headed out on pedal power. With list of errands in hand, I first cycled to my corner Starbucks for coffee. I would then go to the cleaners, bank, Radio Shack, library and the YMCA for my swim. As all of these places are within a eight block radius of each other, it's quite silly to opt for driving over bicycling, but that's what I usually do. I dropped off a sweater at the cleaners, buzzed by the bank's ATM and headed toward Radio Shack.

Considering the near-impossible parking situation near Radio Shack, had I attempted this errand by car, I’d surely have let the phone charger I wanted to return to become a member of the family of clutter that lives in the trunk. With the store easily accessible by bike, I quickly had $15 of found cash to take myself to lunch.

It wasn't far to the YMCA where I locked my bike, grabbed my swim gear from my basket and went in to swim my laps in the indoor pool. Refreshed from my wet workout, I crossed the street to the library to make a book exchange and to lunch on my Radio Shack windfall at library’s Bookmark CafĂ©. It’s easy to relax on this patio with its restful drought-resistant garden and overhanging metal sculpture creating shade. Other patio dwellers tapped on computers, read or talked. There's no urgency here to move on, unless you’re uncomfortable with community atmosphere.

As I leisurely cycled home, I felt like I’d had a mini holiday. By car, the pursuit of errands would have felt like tasks to conquer rather than a day to enjoy.

I had saved only an ounce or two of fossil fuel, but I gained a few hours of unhurried pleasure. Thank you Congressman Blumenhauer and The Goddess of Precious Resources. You made a better woman of me – at least for one day.